Reporting from Tokyo — Announcing that Toyota is considering a recall of its high-selling Corolla subcompact model, company president Akio Toyoda on Wednesday gave his full backing to the company's chief of U.S. operations, who he indicated would attend congressional hearings in Washington D.C. later this month.
Toyoda and executive vice president Shinichi Sasaki also confirmed Toyota's completion of preparations for recall repairs for the "Sai" -- a luxury hybrid sedan -- and Lexus HS250h vehicles in Japan.
The company's dealers estimate that 70 to 80 percent of Prius vehicles will be successfully recalled by the end of the month, Toyoda said. Toyota's possible recall of the Corolla comes after customer complaints about its power steering.
Toyoda and Sasaki addressed the media in Toyota's Tokyo headquarters on the day after the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched a probe into the Japanese company to determine if it acted swiftly to address problems with the accelerator pedals.
The company's investigations to date, however, have confirmed that the electronic throttle control technology cannot accidentally induce acceleration, a primary concern in the U.S. market.
Toyota has between 30 and 60 days to provide the NHTSA with the necessary paperwork related to its investigation. A third-party investigation of the system will follow.
All future models, Toyoda said, will include a brake-override system, which cuts the engine when both the accelerator and brake pedals are pressed simultaneously.
New vehicles will also include an improved on-board event data recorder, a kind of "black box" for Toyota vehicles. "Our investigative capability has not been fully satisfactory," Sasaki said.
Toyoda said he has full confidence in Toyota's North American chief Yoshimi Inaba, who he indicated will appear before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington D.C. on Feb. 24. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has scheduled hearings the next day.
Inaba has Toyoda's "highest personal trust," Toyoda said, and is "qualified to respond to the questions and concerns of Congressmen We will give our full support to those at the hearings."
Toyoda, the grandson of the company's founder, did not give specifics of his own rumored trip to the U.S.
To answer what he called a "misunderstanding in the press," Toyoda said: "I'm not saying that I will never go to the U.S. I am adjusting my schedule to prepare for my visit but can't be specific."
Sasaki said that Toyota is "ready to respond" and waiting on information from the NHTSA regarding the Corolla. He said that the company is aware of "under 100" complaints and is trying to narrow down the causes.
Dealers began notifying customers of the recalls on Feb. 5, the day of Toyoda's first official appearance at a news conference to address the company's multiple recalls. Toyota has recalled about 8.5 million vehicles worldwide.
Toyota sales have dropped 16% since the third week of January. To reduce the mounting inventory of Toyota vehicles, many of which have been sitting in dealers' lots following the recalls, the company plans to temporarily suspend manufacturing operations at two U.S. plants.
Toyota's largest North American facility in Georgetown, Ky., will be closed a week in March and in April. And its tundra truck plant in San Antonio, Tx., will be closed on Feb. 26 and additional days in March.
Toyoda also announced his intent to head up the newly created Special Committee for Global Quality, which will coordinate regional quality control measures with chief quality officers. Its first meeting is scheduled for March 30.